ISLAMABAD: Five more children — three from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and two from Sindh — have tested positive for poliovirus, it emerged on Sunday.
With the latest addition, the number of polio cases in the country has climbed to 58 this year, indicating a sharp increase of 383.33 per cent from last year’s figure of 12. It may be recalled that only eight cases had been confirmed in 2017.
Of the 58 victims found this year, 44 belonged to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa alone, whereas Sindh and Punjab shared five cases each and Balochistan reported four cases.
All the five new victims are girls and four of them had not received a single dose of vaccine, according to an official of Polio Virology Laboratory at the National Institute of Health, Islamabad. Three cases of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were reported from Bannu, Hangu and North Waziristan, while both cases of Sindh were reported from Hyderabad, he said while requesting anonymity.
Tally during the year surges to 58
Sharing details of the cases reported from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the official said: “Three girls were paralysed in KP.” They included an 18-month-old resident of Hangu’s tehsil Thal; a 30-month-old resident of North Waziristan’s tehsil Mirali; and another 18-month-old girl from Bannu’s tehsil Wazir. “All the three had not received a single dose of polio vaccine during routine immunisation,” he said.
About the cases from Hyderabad, the official said one of the girls had missed polio vaccine during routine immunisation. She was a resident of Quetta Town, Hala Nakka area. The other girl, a resident of Liaquat Colony area of Latifabad, had received three doses of polio vaccine during routine immunisation, the official confirmed. The victims were identified as 12-month-old Maimoona and 12-year-old Umme Rubab.
None of the victims from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was identified.
When contacted, Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Polio Eradication Babar Bin Atta confirmed to Dawn that five more children were infected with the virus of crippling disease.
Just over two week ago, five polio cases had been confirmed from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. So far this year, 44 cases have been reported from KP, five each from Punjab and Sindh while four cases have been reported from Balochistan. Last year when the country recorded a total of 12 polio cases, eight of them were reported from KP.
The latest cases have been confirmed only a day before the resumption of a province-wide vaccination campaign after four months. Earlier during a nationwide polio campaign in April, students of a school in Mashokhel were rushed to the Hayatabad Medical Complex, Peshawar, with complaints about drug reaction. However, initial probe indicated that a drama had been staged to spread propaganda against polio drives as all the children were found to be safe.
While some of the culprits were arrested and legal action was taken against them, resistance to polio vaccination has increased since then. To counter the propaganda against vaccine, the authorities have decided to launch the drive from the same village of Mashokhel.
Nearly two dozen cases have been reported from Bannu district, followed by North Waziristan and Torghar where at least eight and five cases have been detected, respectively. Lakki Marwat and Hangu have witnessed two cases each this year, while Shangla, Charsadda, Bajaur and Khyber districts have recorded at least one case each.
In the endemic areas, too, the government is struggling to counter the new challenge of fake markings of children by their parents amid reluctance shown against vaccination.
The province has been experiencing outbreaks since the environmental samples started testing positive in October 2018. The first outbreak was witnessed in Bajaur in November that lasted till January. The second outbreak initially recorded in March in Bannu division is still the focus of attention.
In Torghar, the district administration will spearhead the campaign under tight security because the vaccinators are gripped by fear in the areas known for opposition to vaccination. However, the authorities claimed that elaborate arrangements had been made to run the campaign after a break of several months to ensure that all the children are administered polio drops.
Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by virus mainly affecting children under the age of five. It invades the nervous system, and can cause paralysis or even death. While there is no cure for polio, vaccination is the most effective way to protect children from the crippling disease. Each time a child aged below five years is vaccinated, their protection against the virus is increased. Repeated immunizations have protected millions of children from polio, allowing almost all countries, except Pakistan and Afghanistan, to become polio free.
Published in Dawn, August 26th, 2019